Cultured rat hepatocytes have been used to compare the relative activities of cytokines to inhibit the phenobarbital (PB) or 3-methylcholanthrene (MC) induction of cytochrome P4502B1 and 2B2 (P4502B1/2) or P4501A1 and 1A2 (P4501A1/2), respectively. Recombinant cytokines tested were human interleukin-6 (IL-6), interleukin-1 alpha and -beta (IL-1 alpha and IL-1 beta, respectively), and rat gamma-interferon (INF gamma). Hepatocytes were cultured in the presence of 2 mM PB or 1 microgram MC/mL culture medium for 24 hr with or without the cytokines. Benzyloxyresorufin and ethoxyresorufin O-dealkylase (BROD and EROD, respectively) activities were determined as indices of P4502B1/2 and P4501A1/2, respectively. All cytokines produced a concentration-dependent inhibition of the PB induction of BROD activity. IL-1 beta and IL-6 were approximately equipotent with IC50 values of 1-2 U/mL, causing greater than 90% inhibition of PB induction of BROD activity at a concentration of 50 U/mL culture medium. IL-1 alpha tended to be less active. PB induction of BROD activity was also inhibited by INF gamma, but higher concentrations (62.5 to 500 U/mL culture medium) were required. All cytokines were less effective in inhibiting the MC induction of EROD activity than the PB induction of BROD activity. IL-1 beta and IL-6, at 50 U/mL culture medium, inhibited EROD induction by only 35% compared with the greater than 90% inhibitory effect on the PB induction of BROD activity. INF gamma was ineffective in inhibiting EROD activity at the concentrations studied. Western immunoblot analysis indicated that the cytokines prevented the ability of the inducers to increase the expression of P4502B1/2 and P4501A1/2 immunoreactive proteins, and this effect correlated with their inhibitory effect on induction of enzyme activity. The results suggest that inducible isoforms of cytochrome P450 differ in their susceptibility to regulation by the cytokines, and that cytokines possess differential activity to inhibit the induction of P450 isoforms, with IL-1 beta and IL-6 being the most effective.